What the Heck is FLOW?
In Short: Flow is the science (psychology) of optimal human
experience. Flow is perhaps better known as 'Getting in the Zone'
among athletes and creative folk.
A Tad Longer: Flow, whether in athletic competition, creative
arts, engaging work, or spiritual practice, is a deep and uniquely
human motivation to excel, exceed and triumph over limitation.
What's the State of Flow like?
Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal
Experience describes flow as, "being completely involved
in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies.
Every action, movement and thought flows inevitably from the
previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and
you're using your skills to the utmost."
Who founded it?
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, noted psychologist and pioneer of the
concept discovered it in his own search for happiness. He wanted to
figure out "how to live life as a work of art, rather than as a
chaotic response to external events." Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced
"chicks sent me high-ee")--I know, awesome last name,
huh?--explains how when you're in a state of flow, anything you're
doing can be truly awesome.
My Favorite Part of Flow
Dr. Csikszentmihalyi's life work has been to study what makes
people 'truly' happy. With the emphasis on truly, which separates
what is commonly associated with happiness such as pleasure, an
emotional state or even flow itself. Rather, the happiness he
points to is the "continual challenge to go beyond oneself as part
of something greater than one's own self interest." Dr.
Csikszentmihalyi's other books involved looking further at flow and
at the bigger picture of human evolution in time and offering a new
paradigm on how human beings can become better versions of
themselves. To someone like me who values, and continually strives
for, self-improvement, the concept of Flow is more than intriguing,
it has become part of my personal philosophy.
SO HOW THE HECK DO I GET INTO THE ZONE??
A visual graph of flow.
Dr. Csikszentmihalyi's flow diagram is above. You will notice
that it takes the right blend of challenge and skills to produce
the right environment for flow to occur. It was quite enlightening
and accurate of my own experiences. Give someone a task that
requires no skill but is overly challenging and they get anxiety.
Think most entry 9-5 jobs. Give them a task that requires vast
skills but isn't very challenging and your bored out of your mind.
Think of a doctor's office with only one patient to treat a day.
Boring. However, rocking it like goldilocks, 'just right,' primes
the person to enter a unique state (FLOW) where their current skill
set is maximized and their brain is fully engaged on an equally
The really fascinating part I noticed about the graph, and one
that Dr. Csikszentmihalyi notes in his book, is the need to
increase challenges or skills to get back in the flow zone. For
instance, when a particular task becomes too mundane (you've
figured it out now) or when the challenge escalates above your
current skill level (unforeseen incident), you need to adapt and
evolve in order to relish in the desired state of flow and maximum
6 Tips for Finding Your Flow
1. Clear Goals
Knowing the expectations and having defined rules is essential.
It seems limiting external variables or wayward thinking is
2. Focus on a Single Task
Seems to fire in the face of multi-tasking and productivity
gurus. The old saying was, "balance many tasks to get more done."
The Flow way is to maximize your potential by focusing on one main
task or groups of tasks at a time to really engage your whole skill
set and attention.
3. Quick Feedback Loop
A direct or indirect feedback during an activity is vital so
whatever behavior can be quickly adjusted on an as-needed basis.
Think golfers. If they are slicing and they don't know why, they
will probably keep making the same swing fault without knowing the
true cause. If you had a professional coach there, you'd
immediately get proper feedback and your bad mechanics would
4. Balance of Ability Level and Challenge
As described in the chart above. Finding the correct combination
can improve worker productivity and satisfaction or even increase
your athletic performance.
5. The Activity is Intrinsically Rewarding
If you don't enjoy an activity, how are you going find flow, an
optimal mental state? You're not. Sometimes you have to do things
you don't want to, but if your activity is important to your future
success, keep following the steps for best results.
6. Control Over the Situation
This is another no brainer. If you don't have some type of
personal control over your task or activity...no flow for you.
How to Use Flow Concepts in Room
Creative Spatial Arrangements: Make sure you have plenty of dry
erase boards, pin walls, charts, and ironically NO tables. Dr. C
found the act of moving around and standing had a more positive
effect on entering flow. Obviously this isn't practical for
everybody. (I did randomly just realize that I did my best studying
by writing on a dry erase board while standing and then going back
to my notes to check if I wrote it correctly.) When in doubt, ask
what would Google do? They have a habit of pumping out some of the
best creativity and innovation in the world and they didn't do it
with cubicles and TPS reports!
What KILLS Flow?
1. Fearing what others think of you. Remember if people aren't
criticizing you that means you're not pushing the envelope or doing
awesome things. Don't fret. Let me guzzle Gatorade while you do
what makes you happy.
2. Mundane daily routines. If you're not pushing your
bubble or 'comfort zone,' you won't be experiencing flow anytime
Hope you enjoyed your 4th of July Weekend!